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Captain America: The Winter Soldier Movie Review

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) movie poster Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Theatrical Release: April 4, 2014 / Running Time: 136 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo / Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay); Joe Simon, Jack Kirby (Marvel comic)

Cast: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson / Falcon), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow), Maximiliano Hernandez (Jasper Sitwell), Emily VanCamp (Kate / Agent 13), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Stan Lee (Smithsonian Guard), Callan Mulvey (Jack Rollins), Jenny Agutter (Councilwoman Hawley), Bernard White (Councilman Singh), Alan Dale (Councilman Rockwell), Chin Han (Councilman Yen), Garry Shandling (Senator Stern), Georges St-Pierre (Georges Batroc), Gary Sinise (The Smithsonian Narrator) / Uncredited: Thomas Kretschmann (Baron Wolfgang von Strucker), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Pietro Maximoff)


Captain America: The First Avenger was one of the weaker links of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I entered its sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, more out of obligation than excitement.
The move from The Avengers back to those heroes' solo franchises has required downgraded expectations in quality and box office. Iron Man 3 minimized the adjustment by delighting audiences and grossing more than any other Marvel solo superhero film to date. On the other hand, Thor: The Dark World only got a domestic bump of $25 million over its predecessor and its critical reception was somewhat diminished. Winter Soldier probably can expect to perform similarly.

This sequel opens today on the first weekend of April. It may be an attempt to push up the summer movie season a full month, but it's also designed to keep this film out of the way of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which claims the first May weekend that Marvel traditionally assigns to their biggest film of the year.

In "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) teams up with his fellow Avenger, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).

As you should remember, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) turned from undersized wimp to strapping super soldier "Captain America" via an experimental serum during World War II. Presumed dead, he was discovered frozen nearly 70 years later, his strength and youth preserved. He teamed up with Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and company to save New York (and, by extension, the world) in The Avengers.

Now, the Captain is on his own again. Well, not completely. He gets extensive assistance from all the most focal surviving members of top secret law enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D.: leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Maria Hill (Coby Smulders).

The film opens promisingly enough with Rogers running circles around Iraq War veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. A friendship is born, resembling that of Tony Stark and Colonel Rhodes, though with far less cynicism and sarcasm. With his life endangered, Fury turns to Rogers for help. That incident and its immediate aftermath put Rogers in the hot seat with S.H.I.E.L.D., especially Fury's longtime friend and colleague Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford).

The film's subtitle refers to the mysterious and seemingly invincible metal-armed winter soldier (Sebastian Stan) who pursues Captain America. Senior S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is determined to get to the bottom of attempts on his friend's life.

At the same time Rogers and friends are uncovering conspiracy at S.H.I.E.L.D., they're being targeted by a mysterious,
seemingly invincible metal-armed figure from which the film takes its subtitle. The Captain and Black Widow are on the run for their lives, instructed not to trust anyone but making an exception for their new pal Wilson.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely return from the first film, but veteran adventure director Joe Johnston hands over the reins to the unlikely duo of Anthony and Joe Russo. Directing their first feature film since 2006's You, Me and Dupree, the two brothers have been keeping busy in television comedy, where their credits include a little bit of ABC's "Happy Endings" and a lot of NBC's "Community." They don't seem especially qualified to helm a big effects tentpole like this, but that doesn't stop them from trying and from packing as much action they can into the film.

Like the first film, this one suffers from an excess of action that's only sporadically interesting. Of the one hero-driven adventures comprising Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man's three films have by far been the most successful. They offer superior action, but the appeal also lies in the use of characters and comedy. Captain America is light on both of those ingredients. The hero is honest and dutiful, but not terribly fun to watch, through no fault of Evans. Iron Man has his egotism, Thor has otherworldliness, Hulk his split personality (which hasn't translated to the most exciting films). Steve Rogers hails from a distant generation, but he's acclimating quickly and remains all business. His story is remarkable, but he is not and no one else here has the goods to upstage him.

With that established, we're left with action sequence after action sequence, none of them meaning as much as they would with characters worthy of identification and sympathy. Some of them are creatively staged, like the Captain's opening blitz through a hijacked ship. But the lot of them grows tiresome. The novelty of seeing Evans fling his star shield with precision from distance and Johansson's stunt double flip and take someone down while hiding her face eventually wears off. By the time the overdue big finale arrives involving three helicarriers and visuals kind of resembling Iron Man 3's finale, we're left wondering in a situation so dire, why wouldn't the Captain ring up his fellow Avengers for their help instead of making us wait until next year's sequel.

Captain America (Chris Evans) finds a friend in Iraq war veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).

This sequel does an admirable job of seizing opportunities to bring back characters from the first film. To say more than that would probably qualify as spoilers for anyone not reading the cast list above. Mackie drew the bulk of the infrequent laughs at my full screening, his outsider's perspective resonating with viewers. There's a death in the middle of the film huge enough for you to doubt. The few new cast members are well-prepared for such material, even Redford, who hasn't really done anything of this sort before and who doesn't get to sink his teeth in the role that much.

There are two things you'll have to endure end credits to see. The first functions as an apparent tease for 2015's The Avengers: Age of Ultron and features Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as telekinetic twins in neighboring prison cells (Marvel isn't even bothering with the illusion of connecting projects in these tags anymore). The second bit comes at the very end of the closing scroll and probably isn't worth sticking around for.

Related Reviews:
Captain America: The First Avenger Thor Thor: The Dark World Iron Man Iron Man 3
Chris Evans: Fantastic Four Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Push The Iceman Sunshine
Scarlett Johansson: The Spirit We Bought a Zoo The Prestige | Samuel L. Jackson: The Incredibles Jackie Brown Jumper
Anthony Mackie: Pain & Gain Real Steel The Fifth Estate Gangster Squad Eagle Eye 10 Years | Robert Redford: An Unfinished Life
Sebastian Stan: The Apparition Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season Black Swan | Emily VanCamp: Brothers and Sisters: Season 1
Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Now in Theaters: Divergent The Grand Budapest Hotel Muppets Most Wanted

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Reviewed April 4, 2014.

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